America’s parks and public lands suffer another loss under Trump

America’s parks and public lands suffer another loss under Trump
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While not surprising, it’s still troubling that nearly all of the bipartisan experts serving on the National Park System Advisory Board  felt compelled to resign in protest over the misguided policies of the Trump administration’s Department of the Interior (DOI).

The fact that these experts, who care deeply about our national parks, would resign en masse in frustration points to the disfunction and the disrespect this administration has shown our nation’s parks and public lands.

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One council member, former Alaska Gov. Tony Knowles, told Alaska Public Radio that DOI has “showed no interest in learning about or continuing to use the forward-thinking agenda of science, the effect of climate change, protections of the ecosystem, education.”

 

This latest blow underscores the administration’s continuing anti-conservation agenda and its strong preference for drilling, mining and logging over recreation, wildlife and conservation values.

These national public lands, owned by all Americans and managed on their behalf by the National Park Service and other Interior agencies, show off America’s grandeur in glorious and compelling landscapes in every corner of the United States. Protecting our parks, wildlife refuges and waterways for future generations is an essential role of these agencies.

It’s ironic that the administration carefully planned to keep national parks open in the event of a government shutdown — to avoid the appearance of not caring about parks. But this window-dressing can’t hide the obvious disdain for public lands that Interior Secretary Ryan ZinkeRyan Keith ZinkeFormer Koch adviser to oversee Interior Department's FOIA requests The Year Ahead: Dems under pressure to deliver on green agenda Trump attends Army-Navy game MORE and President TrumpDonald John TrumpHouse Republicans move to block Yemen war-powers votes for rest of Congress Trump says he's considering 10 to 12 contenders for chief of staff Michael Flynn asks judge to spare him from jail time MORE have displayed repeatedly over the past year.

To mention a few of the most egregious examples, President Trump and Secretary Zinke have:

  • Supported oil drilling in one of the last truly pristine wild areas on Earth, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska.
  • Proposed an increase of more than 100 percent for entrance fees at some of America’s most popular national parks, which will freeze out some families with modest incomes.
  • Rolled back protections for national monuments in Utah to make it easier to mine and drill in these lands.
  • Opened the door to uranium mining in 1 million acres of land next to the Grand Canyon and other national parks.
  • Budgeted drastic cuts for the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which enables Americans in virtually every county in the United States to access public land and enjoy the outdoors.
  • Allowed copper mining that likely would pollute the watershed that feeds the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, the most popular wilderness area in the United States and home to the beloved Boy Scout high adventure camp, the Northern Tier.

The mass resignations from the advisory board also illustrate a larger trend. The Union of Concerned Scientists recently released a report that reveals and documents the “unprecedented level of stalled and disbanded scientific advisory committees, cancelled meetings, and dismissed experts” during year one of the Trump administration.

The National Park System Advisory Board, established in 1935, is supposed to advise the National Park Service director and the secretary of the Interior “on matters relating to the National Park Service, the National Park System, and ... the designation of national historic landmarks and national natural landmarks,” according to its website.

So it’s shameful that scientists and natural resource professionals have been locked out of their advisory role at the agency that manages land on behalf of all Americans.

Apparently, the only voices that matter are those of the extractive industries that hope to mine, drill and log our public lands so a few private interests can profit.

For more than a century, Americans have explored the great outdoors through our national parks and public lands. Let’s hope that Secretary Zinke remembers that these places have value for recreation, conservation and the American spirit that we must preserve for future generations.

Jamie Williams is president of The Wilderness Society. Follow him on Twitter @JWilliamsTWS.